Arguably the most valuable filter in a photographer’s arsenal is the Circular Polarizer. A simple, dark filter that rotates on the lens has the ability to darken skies, control reflections and reduce your aperture for diminished depth of field and greater bokeh.
Get Reflections Under Control
A very useful facet of a Polarizer is its ability to manipulate reflections. If you find yourself in a situation where you have to shoot through a reflection, a Polarizer will come in very handy. To demonstrate this, you’ll see that the first shot was made without the polarizing effect.
Simply twisting the filter to bend the reflected light results in the second picture. Suddenly, the rocks below the surface are revealed. These pictures were taken from the exact same angle only a moment apart, but the effect is completely altered.
Another thing a polarizer can do is darken the sky and make clouds pop. For maximum polarizing effect on skies, point the camera at a 90-degree angle from the sun. You won’t see much of a polarizing effect if you point it towards the sun or in the opposite direction.
Reduce The Light
Finally, a Polarizer can be used to diminish the amount of light reaching the sensor. This allows you to open up your f/stop, diminishing depth-of-field so backgrounds go more out of focus. Polarizers require a 2-stop compensation. This is the same effect as an ND.6 Neutral Density Filter, which cuts the light moving through the lens but does not polarize the light.
Most SLR cameras meter the light through the lens, so you will not need to compensate your exposure manually; the camera will adjust the exposure for you. When shooting in bright light, those 2-stops of exposure can make a big difference in how your picture turns out.
When purchasing a circular polarizer, buy one that fits your lens with the largest front diameter. To adapt to your other lenses, you can easily purchase inexpensive adapter rings to make the one filter fit all of your lenses. You can find polarizers at any camera store, Amazon.com and used ones at KEH.com.
While photo editing can help to darken skies and even blur backgrounds, there is no substitute for a Polarizer when it comes to manipulating reflections. This one simple filter is an indispensable tool in every photographer’s bag
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